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Online platforms radicalized the Buffalo mass shooting suspect, a new report says

Flowers and candles lay outside the scene of a shooting at a supermarket, in Buffalo, N.Y., Sunday, May 15, 2022.

Five months after the deadly mass shooting that claimed the lives of 10 Black people and injured three others at a Buffalo, N.Y. grocery store, the New York Attorney General's office released a scathing report calling on the state legislature to pass new laws to stop the livestreaming of homicides.

Released by State Attorney General Letitia James on Tuesday, the 49-page report alleges that several online platforms played roles in radicalizing the alleged gunman, 19-year-old Payton Gendron.

At the federal level, Gendron is facing a 27-count indictment — including 10 counts of hate crimes resulting in death and three counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill. He has been held without bail since his arrest after the May 14 shooting.

The report analyzes Gendron's use of online platforms, including social media

The attorney general's office reviewed thousands of pages of documents and social media content to study how Gendron allegedly used online platforms to plan, prepare and publicize the mass shooting on May 14, according to a news release.

The report also examined several online platforms used by Gendron, including 4chan, 8kun, Reddit, Discord, Twitch, and YouTube. Additionally, officials examined social media platforms that displayed graphic content of the mass shooting or parts of the shooter's writings, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Rumble.

"The tragic shooting in Buffalo exposed the real dangers of unmoderated online platforms that have become breeding grounds for white supremacy," James said in the release.

"Online platforms should be held accountable for allowing hateful and dangerous content to spread on their platforms," she added.

As a result of the investigation, both James and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul are calling on federal and state reforms to take action against online extremism and violence.

"This report offers a chilling account of factors that contributed to this incident and, importantly, a road map toward greater accountability," Hochul said in the release.

Experts say online spaces shouldn't be the primary focus

The findings from the New York Attorney General's office emphasize that Gendron's online writings and videos serve as an "instructional manual" for the next mass shooter.

The report argues that anonymous, unmoderated websites and platforms such as 4chan influenced the gunman – while emphasizing that livestreaming platforms such as Twitch were "weaponized" to publicize and encourage similar violent attacks.

However, experts say that officials shouldn't just focus on online spaces when it comes to investigating mass shooters and their motives.

"It's not just about the online space. We cannot separate out the online space from the actual real world, offline space that we live in," said Humera Khan, president and co-founder of Muflehun, a think tank specializing in preventing radicalization and countering violent extremism.

"With individuals, no matter whatever plays out in the online space, we also see changes in behavior in the offline space," she added.

The state is taking steps against the rise in hate crimes

The findings from the newly released report come at a time when federal and state officials are beginning to implement new initiatives to curb and address hate crime incidents across New York.

In May, the Justice Department announced a series of new guidelines and $10 million in federal grants to help states develop hotlines for reporting incidents.

In August, Gov. Hochul announced new guidance to support the development of domestic terrorism prevention plans, pledging $10 million to assist counties across the state.

And earlier this month, the Justice Department announced the launch of an initiative aimed at combating unlawful acts of hate across Buffalo. The newly created United Against Hate initiative will connect federal, state and local law enforcement with marginalized communities to "build trust" and encourage people to report hate crimes and incidents.

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